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Ben Cooper, Inc. was a privately held American corporation which primarily manufactured Halloween costumes from the late 1930s to the late 1980s. It was one of the three largest Halloween costume manufacturers in the U.S. from the 1950s through the mid-1980s. The company's inexpensive plastic masks and vinyl smocks were an iconic American symbol of Halloween from the 1950s to the 1970s, and Cooper has been called the "Halston of Halloween" and the "High Priest" of Halloween.
Founder Ben Cooper was born on the Lower East Side of New York City in 1906. Although his father was a restaurateur, Cooper studied accounting and briefly sought a career as a songwriter before founding a theatrical costume business in 1927. Cooper designed costumes and sets for the legendary Cotton Club in Harlem and several editions of the Ziegfeld Follies.
With live theater becoming rarer in the 1930s due to the Great Depression and Halloween becoming a more popular holiday, Cooper established Ben Cooper, Inc., in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937. The firm assumed control of A.S. Fishbach, Inc. -- which had a license to produce costumes based on characters owned by The Walt Disney Company such as Donald Duck and Snow White -- in 1937 and began selling Disney costumes under Fishbach's Spotlight brand. The two companies formally merged and incorporated as Ben Cooper, Inc., on December 8, 1942.
By the late 1940s, Ben Cooper, Inc. was one of the largest and most prominent Halloween costume manufacturers in the United States. Its costumes were generally very thin fabric with a silk-screened image on the front that sold for less than $3.00. The company began selling its costumes through large retailers such as J. C. Penney, Sears, Woolworth's, and five-and-dime stores.
Costumes often sold for $1.25. At the time, the most popular costumes were traditional Halloween figures such as devils, ghosts, skeletons, and witches. In the 1950s, television characters such as Davy Crockett, Superman, and Zorro were more popular. As parents became more concerned about safety in the 1950s, the company responded by creating its "Glitter Glo" costumes, dresses, and jumpsuits with large amounts of blue glitter glued to the front (which would reflect the headlights of oncoming automobiles). The company banked heavily on the popularity of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, but had to destroy thousands of masks after Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Ben Cooper, Inc., was one of the "big three" Halloween costume companies, along with Collegeville and the H. Halpern Company (Halco). The company became known for licensing popular film and television characters and getting their images onto store shelves quickly. For example, it licensed Spider-Man, a virtually unknown character at the time, in 1963. The company also licensed the Batman character in 1964.